U.N. report says Iran’s nuclear program temporarily stopped

Michael Adler

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency – the U.N. nuclear watchdog – issued a report on Iran’s controversial nuclear program on Nov. 23. What did it conclude, in a nutshell?
It reported that Iran stopped uranium enrichment for at least one day on Nov. 16, although it provided no specific reason. The new report comes amid speculation about whether international sanctions and sabotage--specifically a computer virus called Stuxnet, which some analysts speculate may have been launched by the United States or Israel—are causing technical problems. But the IAEA also said that Iran continues to produce enriched uranium and now has amassed 3,183 kilograms of low-enriched uranium. If Iran decided to refine it further into highly enriched uranium, it could potentially make two atom bombs.
  • What does the international community know for sure about Iran’s nuclear program?
Iran has an extensive network for producing enriched uranium, which can be used to power civilian power reactors or to make atom bombs. Iran is also building a reactor which could produce large amounts of plutonium, another weapons material. In short, Iran has in place installations for the entire nuclear-fuel cycle, from mining uranium to producing fuel for reactors, or bombs.
  • What does it not know for sure about Iran’s program? 
It does not know whether Iran is hiding sites and secretly producing the fissile material needed to make atom bombs and working on weapon and missile warhead designs.
  • In what specific ways has Iran cooperated with the IAEA since 2003?
Iran has honored its basic safeguards agreement, the mandate for monitoring its nuclear work under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The IAEA has inspectors verifying whether nuclear material in Iran is diverted from peaceful uses. Iran has done even more, allowing for tougher inspections under an Additional Protocol to the NPT, notifying the IAEA as soon as it drew up plans to build new nuclear facilities and even allowing for special "transparency" visits to military and other sensitive sites.
  • In what specific ways has Iran not cooperated with the IAEA since 2003?
Iran ended its extra cooperation after it was cited by the IAEA on Feb. 4, 2006 for non-compliance with its monitoring obligations. Iran was charged with hiding nuclear work for almost two decades and failing to report acquisition of nuclear materials. Iran has also refused to answer questions about the possible military dimensions of its program.
  • What will be the specific issues in a new round diplomacy?
The six world powers negotiating with Iran -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- want the Islamic Republic to honor United Nations resolutions calling on it to suspend uranium enrichment, apply the Additional Protocol, and fully cooperate with IAEA inspectors. The sextet also wants Iran to agree to a fuel swap -- shipping out most of the uranium it has enriched in return for getting reactor fuel. This arrangement is designed to build confidence that Iran will not use its enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons.
  • What is the key gap between the two sides?
Iran insists it has the right to enrich uranium, as a signatory to the NPT and so cannot be forced to suspend enrichment. The United States and its allies insist that Iran must show its good intentions by halting the production of fissile material that can be used for bombs.

Read Michael Adler's chapter on Iran and the IAEA in “The Iran Primer” 

Michael Adler, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, formerly covered the International Atomic Energy Agency for Agence France-Presse